Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Reply to Lutheran Nathan Rinne: Comparative Ecclesiology, "Lutheran" Church Fathers? / The Old Testament Religious System Was Ultimately Indefectible Like the Church, But With Less Divinely-Provided Power and Promises

A 1520 Treatise by Martin Luther


Nathan is a friendly Lutheran theological adversary. We previously engaged in the following exchanges:

Brief Exchange With Lutheran Nathan Rinne on Luther's Revolt and Fundamental Differences of Perspective Regarding the So-Called Protestant "Reformation"

Dialogue on Lutheranism and Catholicism, Part One: Introductory

Dialogue on Lutheranism and Catholicism, Part Two: Church Fathers + Sola Scriptura

Dialogue on Lutheranism and Catholicism, Part Three: Soteriology and Miscellany

Dialogue on Lutheranism and Catholicism, Part Four: Rule of Faith, the Fathers, and Ecclesiology
Reply to Lutheran Nathan Rinne: Exegetical Exposition on Whether the "Leaven" of the Pharisees is Hypocrisy or Doctrinal Falsehood

Nathan's latest reply -- one portion of which I am now responding to --, is entitled, Round 2 with RC apologist Dave Armstrong: the unattractive body of Christ. His words will be in blue. I will be changing what I regard as excessive bolding in Nathan's replies (harsh on the eyes) to italics.

On 28 November 2011, I revised some portions below due to a slight change in my thinking. Before, I contended that the old covenant system was defectible, whereas the new covenant Church was indefectible. Now -- after seeing several arguments for indefectibility in the Old Testament in St. Francis de Sales' book, The Catholic Controversy, -- in the course of working on my latest book, I have come to the position (more amenable to my understanding of development of doctrine) of indefectibility also being present in the old covenant (in a way more than just a "remnant"), yet in a far less profound and sweeping sense than in the new (due to the appearance of Jesus and the universal indwelling of the Holy Spirit among Christians).

In order to ease confusion (for Nathan has now replied to this paper), revised sections have been color-coded in green, and omitted sections indicated by bracketed ellipses: "[ . . . ]". An additional section of arguments from St. Francis de Sales will be added after the final set of five asterisks. This won't be in green, since it is entirely new, as noted here, and is a straight addition, rather than revision of existing material.


* * * * *

. . . I drew the conclusion that persons can hold a legitimate, authoritative office in the Church by God’s will and yet teach falsely.

Yes, they certainly can. A bishop can teach wrong things; even be a heretic. There were hundreds of Arian and Monophysite bishops. A council can teach wrongly: the Robber Council of 449 is an example. Even, in our view, popes can both teach heresy and personally be heretics. We only think that if he attempts to proclaim a heresy as binding on the faithful, that God would prevent it. He is infallible under certain carefully defined circumstances. The ecumenical council is infallible if it proclaims, in legion with the pope, some teaching as binding and obligatory.

The problem with your view is that it proves too much: it takes out biblical requirements of indefectibility and the universal casual assumption in the New Testament that there is one doctrinal truth and one faith: not competing sectarian visions. The two aspects have to be balanced. We believe that our position on it incorporates all the relevant realities: human frailty and fallibility (which needs no proof!), and the other non-optional consideration of divine infallibility and guidance of the Church through God the Holy Spirit (John 14-16).

You say you believe in the indefectibility of the Church, too, but I retort that in order to do so, you have to change the definition of Church as always historically understood in apostolic and patristic and medieval Catholic Christianity. Thus, you have difficulties in ecclesiology. Protestantism is always, always, internally incoherent and self-contradictory in the final analysis. There is no way out of it. You have to either forsake history or logic or consistent biblical exegesis at some point in order to hold any form of Protestantism.

I hate to put it in such crass terms, but that is what I sincerely believe, with all due respect to my brothers and sisters, whom I highly respect and esteem on an individual level, and to you (whose apologetic and analytical abilities I do respect). Lutheranism has, I think, less internal difficulties than any other Protestant view, save Anglo-Catholicism, but there are still severe difficulties, unable to be resolved. We'll get to those, the longer we interact. :-) I've already debated many of them with other Lutherans.

There is no hostility here! Just a desire for the truth . . . 

Whatever I said to elicit this reply from you, it was (I know for sure) referring to hostile premises or opposing ideas, not personal hostility. There is (quite refreshingly) none of that from you, and none from my end, either: just a great theological conversation: a thing that ought to be possible for any and all Christians to do, but alas, it is sadly rare.

(is what I said above regarding Jesus’ seemingly contradictory stance towards the Pharisees as teachers of truth not interesting, and worthy of more thorough reflection?) . . . I simply wanted him to acknowledge “Jesus’ seemingly contradictory stance towards the Pharisees as teachers of the truth” (which yes, could have implications depending on how one views God working in the Church). . . . If he does not find the following response to his objections convincing at all, I would, first of all, like him to tell me why it has nothing to do with his failure to thoughtfully and carefully deal with (and produce an adequate explanation of) these simple and clear Biblical facts.  Because, you see, I think these facts of Scripture are lynch-pins to the whole of the case I have against him and the particular church of which he is a part.

It was quite worthy of response, which is why I devoted my last reply to it, with lots of substance for you to grapple with. I was delighted at the opportunity to strengthen the Catholic case on a key issue (as you say). I have proposed a way to resolve the seeming contradiction (that I don't -- like you -- believe is really there). Now, your task is to propose a better solution, taking into account the relevant passages that I brought to bear. I found the entire topic a fascinating one to ponder. I think my explanation was quite thoughtful and careful and adequate. Now I hope you will grant me the same courtesy and not pass over my counter-argument. Then this dialogue can get very interesting indeed, and constructive, too.

OK, here’s my recap of the things he is talking about.  He says Irenaeus was a Roman Catholic because he believed in “episcopacy, apostolic succession, apostles’ choosing of bishops to succeed them, Roman primacy, the papacy”, etc.  I don’t deny that Irenaeus believed these things, but essentially ask “can any of this be proven from the Scriptures?” (it seems to me that they certainly cannot). 

It seems to me that they certainly can be so proven or strongly indicated at the very least (excepting Roman primacy, which is a post-biblical development, but clearly apostolic, starting right with St. Clement of Rome). I give much biblical argumentation for all the other elements on my Church and Papacy web pages. Apostolic succession is very straightforward, as seen particularly in the replacement of Judas with Matthias. Judas is even called a bishop! So it's all right there: an apostle being replaced, and bishops as successors to the apostles.

What St. Irenaeus believed (agree or disagree with him), on the other hand, is a matter of historical record. I backed up my contentions about his beliefs from Protestant historians. It's not rocket science. He was a thoroughgoing Catholic, and believed exactly what we would expect, in a Catholic outlook, at that point of time and development in the history of Church doctrine: not some kind of proto-Lutheran. What Protestants try to do is special plead and make out that the fathers were closer to their beliefs than ours, and it just isn't the case. It's a losing battle; a hopeless cause; fails miserably every time: even with good ol' St. Augustine: every Protestant's favorite Church father (who believed, e.g., in all seven Catholic sacraments). You can't make a square peg fit into a round hole.

Further, I ask this because the Roman Catholic Church says that if these things aren’t believed, my particular church (LC-MS) is placing itself outside of the Church and salvation, which to me seems to me quite radical.

This is far more complex than you make out. We believe that Protestants are part of the Church in an imperfect manner, and that they can indeed be saved, since they have the true sacrament of baptism and believe many things in common with us. This was highly stressed at Vatican II and many ecumenical papal encyclicals and other papal statements since. If one knows for sure that the Catholic Church is the one true Church in its fullness: unique and set up by God, and rejects it, then we'd say they cannot be saved. God meets people where they are at. People who have never even heard of Jesus or the gospel can possibly be saved (Romans 2). We say that Protestants are simply wrong with regard to all these things you mention, which are strongly supported in the Bible itself, except for Roman primacy, which is secondary to the papacy, anyway, which is indicated by St. Peter's leadership and many things said about him in the Bible.

What is "radical" are many statements about the Catholic Church made in the Book of Concord (following Luther's anti-Catholic nonsense and hogwash), such as that we are the seat of antichrist, that we worship Baal in the Mass, and are rank idolaters and semi-Pelagians, etc. There are a host of falsehoods there. Example:

Apology of the Augsburg Confession [1531], Article XXIV: The Mass

Carnal men cannot stand it when only the sacrifice of Christ is honored as a propitiation. For they do not understand the righteousness of faith but give equal honor to other sacrifices and services. A false idea clung to the wicked priests in Judah, and in Israel the worship of Baal continued; yet the church of God was there, condemning wicked services. So in the papal realm the worship of Baal clings -- namely, the abuse of the Mass . . . And it seems that this worship of Baal will endure together with the papal realm until Christ comes to judge and by the glory of his coming destroys the kingdom of Antichrist. Meanwhile all those who truly believe the Gospel should reject those wicked services invented against God's command to obscure the glory of Christ and the righteousness of faith.

(The Book of Concord, translated and edited by Theodore Tappert, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House / Muhlenberg Press, 1959, p. 268)

In addition to Irenaeus’ beliefs mentioned above, he also believed that all the things that the Apostles orally passed on to their successors (i.e. the “Apostolic deposit”, the “Rule of Faith”) were in “agreement with the Scriptures” (his actual words).

Yes, so do I; so do all orthodox Catholics. That proves nothing with regard to our dispute about sola Scriptura. Protestants have the most extraordinarily difficult time grasping this. You seem to think it is some big "score" for your side, when the fact of the matter is that we are entirely in agreement, so that it is useless for you to point this out at all. It's like saying, "we believe that the sun goes up!" There is no need to state the obvious that all agree upon. All this shows is that, apparently, you think for some reason that Catholics would deny that our doctrines are in complete harmony with Holy Scripture. Else, why bring it up at all?

Therefore, if these things Irenaeus mentions cannot be found in the Scriptures, either explicitly or implicitly, how should we react to such beliefs (given his other stated beliefs)? 


You should reject them (so should I). I strongly deny that they are not found there.

I suggest that Jerome, writing in the 4th c., gives us a good clue about what is really happening here: things like distinctions between bishops and presbyters are by human, not divine rite. They are arrangements that pastors, working together and led by the Holy Spirit, came up with in their times to effectively order the Church for the sake of order, love, and unity. To say that this is a matter that determines whether a particular church is “truly Church” seems very wrong, to say the least. 

The distinctions are clearly laid out in Scripture itself. I go through them, particularly, in my paper, The Visible, Hierarchical, Apostolic Church, which is part of my book, A Biblical Defense of Catholicism.

I suggest that had Ireneaus actually had to think about these things (in his context he didn’t) he would side with my particular church, not Rome.

I suggest that he wouldn't have. All the many novel and heretical things that Luther introduced would have been foreign to his very categories of thought.

. . . even a great like Saint Augustine talked about how he, in his conflicts with the heretics, consistently came across fathers who had spoken carelessly, or not as circumspectly as they should have – and he tried to cover their errors.
 For example, before Pelagius, many fathers had spoken quite loosely about free will, not seeing original sin as the horrible contagion that it was.  It was only after this error drove Augustine back to the Scriptures that he was able to look upon the writings of the Fathers – with new eyes – and to see how badly they had erred. 

That's all quite true. Original sin developed slowly. True doctrine is always clarified in disputes with heretics. Cardinal Newman noted that there was more of a consensus in the fathers for purgatory than for original sin. This poses no difficulty for our position. Christology, after all, developed slowly, too (for at least another two hundred years after Augustine, working through the natures and wills of Christ. So did the canon of Scripture and Mariology and the communion of saints. Protestants arbitrarily cherry-pick some things (canon -- minus the deuterocanon -- original sin, Christology), and reject others (Mariology, intercession and invocation and veneration of saints, purgatory), but all of these developed slowly for hundreds of years. Lutheranism developed so extremely slowly that it took almost 1500 years to appear at all. :-)

Therefore, like Noah’s children covered him in his nakedness, Augustine covered their errors as much as he could while at the same time trying not to being dishonest about what they had actually said.  The Lutherans were simply following in Augustine’s train.  

You guys rejected some of his (and Luther's) more extreme predestinarian views just as we did. But he was not a Calvinist, either, despite what the Calvinists vainly try to argue. Luther was more of a Calvinist than Augustine ever was, in terms of predestination and free will.

. . . sometimes the church only gradually comes to realize that some of the doctrines it would never have thought to wonder about (i.e. is this doctrine really important or not), it does come to wonder about when people begin to misuse it in some wayand then it can [quite readily] be determined to be essential or non-essential.  

I agree, excepting those doctrines which are essential but which Lutherans (along with many other Protestants) wrongly deny are essential. Doctrines develop, but if they are part of the apostolic deposit, they can never be "demoted" to non-essential or optional status.


I hope this makes it more clear why, when it comes to the Rule of Faith and the development of doctrine, that it is not always useful to simply focus on the quotations of the fathers. You see, I submit that there are other concrete facts that are even more important – that trump whatever this or that father may have said (I am not saying that they are not important!). These facts suggest a different story, an alternative narrative to the one that Dave has. 

It all depends on what one wants to talk about. The historical and biblical arguments in favor of doctrines are distinct. Chemnitz (the original impetus for our discussions)  talked about Church fathers, so I did, too, because he stated many factual errors in that regard. For the Protestant, they can always ditch what any father says, or what all (or nearly all) of them hold in consensus, if they wish, because for them there is no infallible authority except Scripture.

Now, above, you have said that the promises made to the New Testament Church are of a fundamentally different nature than those made to the Assembly of the Israelites.  To say the least, that is far from obvious. 

What is so difficult to grasp about my statement, "The Old Testament proto-Church did not have the Holy Spirit and express promises from God that it would be protected and never defect"? This is rather straightforward and plain. The Holy Spirit was only given to select individuals in the old covenant: but now to every baptized Christian and in greater measure to Church leaders. There are promises of indefectibility, too (that I have collected), that go even further than what was present in kernel form in the old covenant. For example:

Matthew 16:18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it.

This is the Church: Jesus' Church, headed by Peter and his successors the popes: not just a tiny remnant. What remains constant in the old covenant is God's mercy towards his always-straying children, and holding to His covenants despite their rebelliousness. Hence we have the notion of remnant that you often bring up. But that is distinct from institutional indefectibility (that is also present in the old covenant, though less dramatically than in the new). That is simply a few followers who remain true, whereas in the new covenant, the positive promise is that the truth and the apostolic deposit (of which it is Guardian) will never depart from the Church. It would be like the two or three high level pro-life Democrats that still exist as a tiny remnant of what once was. That's your remnant idea. In our view (to follow the analogy) the entire party (in its platform) remains on the right path, and isn't reduced to just a few people of a once-great corporate assembly.

The Church is also obviously after Jesus, and He is with us as well, which makes it doctrinally protected all the more (Matthew 28:20: "I am with you always, to the close of the age"). It's quite ironic that Protestants accuse us of being stuck in Pharisaical legalism and works-righteousness, yet in the present discussion you are maintaining that the new covenant is not all that different from the old, and I am maintaining that it is quite far beyond the old, and that Catholicism is the fullness of the development of a Church and the new covenant and Christian post-pentecostal age (developed from the previous old covenant system). You're defending the virtual identity of the old system with the Christian one in the sense of ecclesiology; I am saying that the new covenant "new wineskins" are far more advanced.

I think the default conclusion of any reader of the Bible as a whole will be that we are dealing with continuity here,. . . 

[ . . . ] Let me be more specific: I think (with you) that there is continuity (I believe in development of doctrine), but I think it is a huge leap from the OT assembly to the NT Church because of the elements I have been discussing. Insofar as there is consistent continuity, the analogy is far more towards the Catholic Church rather than to Lutheranism.

The stronger nature of institutional indefectibility is the striking development in ecclesiology after Jesus. Previous to that time, the Bible was regarded as an unchanging truth, but not assemblies of men, so much. Rather, infallibility was isolated, in the form of prophets, who brought God's message in a profound way. They are analogous in some important ways to popes, whereas Lutherans have no such authority figures anymore and go back to infallible and/or binding books alone, as in the old covenant: Bible, Book of Concord.

and I think that you need to demonstrate that the promises to the New Testament church suggest more discontinuity with the Old Testament Church than they do continuity (or at least define well the difference in continuity). 

[ . . . ] I don't think it is more discontinuity than continuity (according to development of doctrine), but I hold that the protections of infallibility and indefectibility in the new covenant, in the (institutional, historical, hierarchical, visible) Catholic Church, are more extraordinary and wide-ranging than in the old covenant.

I go by Romans 1, which talks about going from faith to faith, from first to last.  The Bible is fundamentally the story of God calling His people and giving them promises by His Spirit to keep them strong in the faith.

I don't disagree with any of that. It is neither here nor there in relation to our particular dispute at present. I would simply say again, that Protestants have less faith than Catholics, because we believe that God can preserve institutions (His Church) as well as Bibles and individuals. That takes more faith. We have that; you do not, because you deny the very possibility. I think Protestantism suffers greatly from that deficiency because it tends to a-historicism, anti-institutionalism, and excessive individualism: all things that run counter to the biblical worldview.

If the institution of religious leadership even in the old covenant was indefectible, so that there was never a time that Israel lacked true, obedient leaders altogether (more on that below, near the end), how much more so should we expect this to be the case in the new covenant?

Note that the Church (or Assembly) of the Old Testament also had specific promises about the temple that “God wills to dwell there forever” (also see Deut. 16:2; 2 Chron. 6:2; Neh. 1:9; Isa. 31:9; Isa. 59:21 ; Jer. 31:36-37, 40, etc.).

God in fact didn't dwell in the temple forever, and the temple (three different buildings) was destroyed three times: by the Babylonians and the Romans twice [ . . . ]. In the old covenant, God's presence also appears to be far more conditioned upon obedience. For example:

Ezekiel 13:8 Therefore thus says the Lord God: "Because you have uttered delusions and seen lies, therefore behold, I am against you, says the Lord GOD".
Malachi 3:7 From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, says the LORD of hosts.

That's not the case in the new covenant, with all the promises of the gates of hell not prevailing against the Church and His presence in Christians in perpetuity.  The Bible actually describes God and the "glory of the Lord" or the shekinah presence departing from the temple, prior to its destruction:

Ezekiel 8:6 And he said to me, "Son of man, do you see what they are doing, the great abominations that the house of Israel are committing here, to drive me far from my sanctuary? But you will see still greater abominations."

Ezekiel 11:23 And the glory of the LORD went up from the midst of the city, and stood upon the mountain which is on the east side of the city. (cf. 9:3; 10:4, 18-19)

Getting back to your prooftexts, God is said to dwell in Jerusalem forever (1 Chr 23:25) but that is not the temple, and hence, not an institution analogous to the Church. Deut 16:2 says God will dwell at a certain "place," but it doesn't say it will be forever. Solomon says in another of your texts, "I have built thee an exalted house, a place for thee to dwell in for ever" (2 Chr 6:2), but this doesn't prove that God always will do so. Ezekiel 8:6 and 11:23 show that He did not in fact always dwell there, and three destroyed temples make that obvious, anyway, I should think. Right now a mosque stands where the temple stood, so if God is still there "forever" it is in the shrine of a false religion.

Nehemiah 1:9 proves my point (thanks!): God's presence is directly dependent on obedience: "if you return to me and keep my commandments . . ." Therefore it is not [ . . . ] unconditional as the new covenant indefectibility of the Church is. Isaiah 31:9 doesn't mention the temple at all. Isaiah 59:21 is better, but it is still conditional on behavior, as seen in the preceding verse: "to those in Jacob who turn from transgression." [ . . . ]

Jeremiah 31:36-37 is in the context of the announcement of the new covenant (31:31-34). This in and of itself proves that the new covenant is vastly superior to (though a development of) the old, because it foretells the indwelling (31:33), and God can be with His people forever precisely because He forgives their sin once and for all (31:34). The indwelling in turn is made possible by the sacrifice of Christ (Jn 14:16-20; 15:26; 16:7, 13). Jeremiah 31:40 is not about the temple. [ . . . ]

And note especially Leviticus 24 [should be 26]: 11 I will make my dwelling among you, and my soul shall not abhor you. 12 And I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall be my people.”   That seems pretty firm and unconditional taken by itself, but of course we know that we need to take these words in the context of the whole narrative, including the other words that were spoken to them as well. 

This is yet another conditional promise, so it is not a full analogy to the more advanced indefectibility of the Catholic Church: "If you walk in my statutes and observe my commandments and do them, then. . ." (Lev 26:3-4a). Then 26:14 states: "if you will not hearken to me, and will not do all these commandments,. . ." followed by a horrible list of judgments (26:16-43). So this is a stranger "prooftext" for you to cite.

What you don't seem to realize is that this is not the case in the new covenant and Church Age. The promises are unconditional. God will do what He promises regarding protection of the Church and her doctrine: "the powers of death shall not prevail against" the Church (Matt 16:18); period. It's not based on obedience. God brings it to pass. End of story. "I am with you always, to the close of the age" (Matt 28:20); no conditions again. It's an absolute statement. God wills and declares and promises it, so it will happen, and cannot not happen.

Peter falters and denies Christ three times, but after he is filled with the Holy Spirit it is a different story. Jesus prays for him in a special way because he is the leader of the Church: "I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail" (Lk 22:32); and indeed it doesn't, after Pentecost. This is a type and shadow of papal infallibility, as is being given the keys of the kingdom (Matt 16:19): only given to Peter; and all the implications of that (rightly understood, in light of its OT precursors). All of this goes to show that your attempted analogy between old covenant disobedience and unfaithfulness and the Church (because of the greater protection of and promises to the Church), doesn't fly. [ . . . ]

We know later on in the story, Jeremiah reproaches those who appeal to the promises about the temple of the Lord (“the temple of the Lord!  The temple of the Lord!”) for “trusting the words of a liar” (Jer. 7:8)  As Gerhard says: “Promises only pertain to those who allow the Word of God to rule them, who look to the Law and the testimony [Isaiah 8:20]; and who teach, judge and act according to the norm of the divine Word (161, On the Church)”.

Yes; that is exactly right with regard to the old covenant, but not the new covenant, with regard to promises made about the Church and its guardianship of truth and the one true faith: "the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth" (1 Tim 3:15). God Himself protects the doctrine of the Church from being corrupted. This is the entire point. If it were left up to men, this wouldn't happen, but when God wants something done (in this case, preservation of true doctrine and theology and moral teaching), it is done. Gerhard, I guess, doesn't know that things have been greatly strengthened with the new covenant. If you follow his line of reasoning, you'll be wrong, too, and miss the glorious truths that the New Testament is teaching on this score.

So, due to the widespread corruption in His Church in the O.T., did the Lord forsake His people and abandon his heritage (see Psalm 94:14)?  Did the gates of hell prevail against the Old Testament Church – was God not with them [even until the end of the age…]?  Things got pretty rough, but persons like Mary, Simeon, Anna, Zechariah, Elizabeth and Nathaniel would suggest that the gates of hell did not prevail and God did not leave them or forsake them – He preserved His remnant through those who were faithful

He remained with the remnant of the faithful, [ . . . ] and also with a select few of the leaders: the priests and Levites and the scribes and Pharisees and Sadducees. [ . . . ] But you have to redefine the Church in order to maintain your "new covenant remnant" view: as if the Church could be reduced to a few people here and there, like the survivors of a nuclear war, or the last dinosaur before extinction set in. This is not New Testament language regarding the Church. The Church is present even in the churches of Revelation that Jesus rebukes for many serious sins.

For example, the "church of Pergamum" (Rev 2:12) -- note how Jesus Himself still calls it a church -- , has members that even hold to false doctrine ("you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, . . . you also have some who hold the teaching of the Nicola'itans" -- 2:14-15). This goes against your contention that those who have false doctrine immediately lose the title of "church". Jesus Himself refutes you. It couldn't be any clearer.

But now, given that Hebrews tells us that God has always gathered an Assembly for Himself by causing people to look in faith to the Promised Messiah (Hebrews 11) – even through horrendous persecutions where God, though fully faithful, seemed to have abandoned His people – what justification do you have for suggesting that the Church has fundamentally changed?

Hebrews 11 is about individuals of great faith, not (technically) the old covenant religious system. Moses (of those listed) was a religious leader. [ . . . ] One might argue that he taught falsely in a sense, by implying that he could perform miracles by his own power, not God's: "Hear now, you rebels; shall we bring forth water for you out of this rock?" (Num 20:10). God had told him to merely speak to the rock (20:8), but he struck it twice (20:11), leading God to rebuke him: "you did not believe in me, to sanctify me in the eyes of the people" (20:12). For this reason, both he and Aaron were not allowed to enter the Promised Land (20:12; Dt 34:4). But this is much more so a moral lapse than a false teaching, thus, there remains an analogy to the indefectibility of the Church.[ . . . ]

The prophets are the most analogous to the infallibility of popes, as I have argued twice in my papers (one / two), and will again in my new book against sola Scriptura. But they were not part of the religious system; they were outside of it: usually rebuking the corrupt people in it. The difference in the new covenant is that God promises to protect the institutional system of the Church from error ("it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us" -- Acts 15:28: the Jerusalem Council). The Church is a far more spiritually advanced entity.

…those who persecuted Micah, Elijah, and Jeremiah, for example, could have said (and in some cases did say) similar things.  [as were said by the Church to Luther] 

That's correct. But they didn't have the promise of Christ of indefectibility, whereas the Catholic Church, an institution with an unbroken history and succession back to the apostles and Christ, did have that. Nor was Luther a prophet, as those men were.

I had challenged you, stating:


Show me in the Bible where there is ever such a thing as a mere layperson disagreeing doctrinally with a leader in the Church based on Bible reading and thereby being justified in his dissent and schism by that method? I say it isn’t there. 

But here I need only point out how John the Baptist and our Lord Himself were not formally recognized or ordained by the religious hierarchy of the N.T. Church, as the Pharisees, who served on the council, were. The hierarchy even asked John by what right he said the things he did. 

This doesn't overcome my argument and position because this is not yet the Church. There was no Church till Pentecost, after the death of both John and Jesus and the coming of the Holy Spirit. Jesus couldn't be "ordained" by the "N.T. Church" because it didn't yet exist. Therefore, this proves nothing. They were rejected by the old covenant religious system [ . . . ].

And now that I have established an alternative narrative account that I do not think you can deny,  . . . 

Surprise! I eagerly look forward to your answers to all the material I have come up with.

* * *


In fact, the Bible predicts that in the Last Days, the church will not look glorious at all, but will be beleagered on all sides… (see Matthew 24:24, Luke 18:8, 2 Thes 2:3-4). 

Matthew 24:24 For false Christs and false prophets will arise and show great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. 

Individuals will be led astray in great numbers (sounds like today!). This says nothing about the institutional Church, or magisterium, and so is irrelevant to the question of indefectibility, which has to do with the Church, not individual Christians.

Luke 18:8 I tell you, he will vindicate them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of man comes, will he find faith on earth?

Ditto. Widespread apostasy of men doesn't prove that the Church has forsaken and failed in her God-given and divinely-guided mission. The text simply doesn't say that.

2 Thessalonians 2:3-4 Let no one deceive you in any way; for that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of perdition, [4] who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God. 

This is closer to what you need to show but still doesn't by any means prove defectibility. It's somewhat like the times when popes were held prisoner, or the horrors of the French Revolution or the English so-called "Reformation" with its wholesale butcheries (ripping people' hearts out of their bodies, etc., simply for being Catholics) and Leninist-like repression. The Church didn't cease to exist because this was the case, and strong-arm tactics used to suppress the head of the Church, or the entire institutional Church, as the case may be. Peter and Paul (and St. Thomas More and St. John Fisher) were martyred; the Church still existed. The structure (and the truth and apostolic deposit preserved in the Church) didn't go into oblivion because of any persecution. The same will apply during the Last Days, no matter how bad it gets.

The seven churches of Revelation are again illustrative. Jesus (unlike the thrust of the "Reformers") still calls them "churches" no matter how many sins He condemned in them. They didn't lose or forfeit the category. And there is indication that at least some of these local churches will persevere through the last days; for example, the church in Philadelphia:

Revelation 3:10 Because you have kept my word of patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial which is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell upon the earth. 

When He says "you" He is writing to the church, not one person.

. . . it’s just that such a Church can be a lot smaller than you might think.  

It may be very small in the end, but it is still there, preserving the truth. That's the promise: essence and unbroken continuity, not size or appearance or influence or popular acclaim. But your champion Gerhard (as you cite him) wants to play games and equivocate: “It is one thing to say simply that the church is visible; it is another to say that it is visible to the world” (186). Right. 

This reminds me of the Jehovah's Witnesses ludicrous claim (made in desperation after false prophecies) that Jesus did return in 1914, but invisibly, not visibly. Likewise, for Gerhard, the Church will always be visible, but alas, not to the world. I trust that his other arguments are more impressive than this one. But in any event, it's an absolutely classic case study of saying the right words (indefectibility, visible Church), but redefining them according to one's own fancies, over against traditional Catholic use. This is the trademark of heterodoxy and liberalism at all times. Rather than admit that things have essentially changed, it prefers word games and equivocations.

that said, I would add that God certainly intends for His Church to be visible and discernible before the world, for He desires all persons to be saved.

Good; so even you disagree with Gerhard. You're right. Welcome to Catholic ecclesiology, in this respect.

In any case, it seems to me that the major difference between you and I is that you start thing from the get go wanting certainty.  


It's not a matter of what I (or anyone else) want or don't want, but of what the New Testament everywhere casually assumes without argument, about the Church's possession of the fullness of apostolic truth and doctrine. Belief that all this is so uncertain is one of the negative fruits of the relentless sectarianism of Protestantism. Because they can't agree with each other, they start to pretend that Scripture sanctions their disagreements as of relatively little importance. This is sheer nonsense. The New Testament knows nothing of the "healthy diversity" of mutually contradictory doctrines. Falsehood is from the devil, period. Where logical contradiction exists, falsehood also must be present.

[Nathan has replied. I declined to counter-reply, for (mostly time-management) reasons explained on his site, but would like to engage in various other debates with him in the future]

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Here are the biblical arguments from St. Francis de Sales' book, The Catholic Controversy, that caused me to revise my position on the indefectibility of the old covenant institutional religious system (passages: RSV; all comments are his own, except for a few of my bracketed interjections):


Exodus 32:26 then Moses stood in the gate of the camp, and said, “Who is on the LORD's side? Come to me.” And all the sons of Levi gathered themselves together to him.

Did not Aaron the High Priest adore the golden calf with all his people? [Protestant argument for complete defectibility] Answer: Aaron was not as yet High Priest, nor head of the people, but became so afterwards. And it is not true that all the people worshipped idols: — for were not the children of Levi men of God, who joined themselves to Moses? (pp. 60-61)


2 Chronicles 15:3 For a long time Israel was without the true God, and without a teaching priest, and without law;

Elijah lamented that he was alone in Israel (1 Ki 19:14) [“I, even I only, am left”]. Answer: Elijah was not the only good man in Israel, for there were seven thousand men who had not given themselves up to idolatry [1 Ki 19:18: “I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Ba'al”], and what the Prophet says here is only to express better the justice of his complaint. It is not true again that if all Israel had failed, the Church would have thereby ceased to exist, for Israel was not the whole Church. Indeed it was already separated therefrom by the schism of Jeroboam; and the kingdom of Judah was the better and principal part; and it is Israel, not Judah, of which Azarias predicted that it should be without priest and sacrifice. (p. 61)

Isaiah 1:4-6 Ah, sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, offspring of evildoers, sons who deal corruptly! They have forsaken the LORD, they have despised the Holy One of Israel, they are utterly estranged. [5] Why will you still be smitten, that you continue to rebel? The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. [6] From the sole of the foot even to the head, there is no soundness in it, . . .

. . . these are forms of speaking, and of vehemently detesting the vice of a people. And although the Prophets, pastors and preachers use these general modes of expression, we are not to understand them of each particular person, but only of a large proportion; as appears by the example of Elijah who complained that he was alone, notwithstanding that there were yet seven thousand faithful. [1 Ki 19:14, 18] S. Paul complains to the Philippians (2:21) that all seek their own interest and advantage; still at the end of the Epistle he acknowledges that there were many good people with him and with them. [4:10, 14-18] (p. 61)

[see also my related paper, St. Francis de Sales' Argument Against Total Depravity and for the Indefectibility of the Church, from the Psalms]


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3 comments:

Nathan Rinne said...

"The problem with your view is that it proves too much: it takes out biblical requirements of indefectibility and the universal casual assumption in the New Testament that there is one doctrinal truth and one faith: not competing secrtarian visions. The two aspects have to be balanced. We believe that our position on it incorporates all the relevant realities: human frailty and fallibility (which needs no proof!), and the other non-optional consideration of divine infallibility and guidance of the Church through God the Holy Spirit (John 14-16)."

Dave I'm feeling a bit dense - could you put this a different way for me? (esp. the first sentence)

Dave Armstrong said...

The Bible says that the Church will preserve the one doctrinal truth and the one faith and can't fail in that respect. It also shows us (if we don't already know) that human beings are sinners.

So the task is to balance the two. You guys say that human sin makes it impossible for there to be an infallible church, as if God can't overcome human sin to accomplish his stated purpose.

We disagree. We think that God can do that, and we have a view that incorporates both aspects. We don't give up infallibility because of human sin. We separate infallibility from peccability (sin).

Dave Armstrong said...

A capsule argument I have made is that God preserves the infallibility of His Church, despite sinners in it, which is a less extraordinary thing than preserving an inspired, infallible, inerrant Bible, despite the sinners who wrote it.

The first is quite plausible to be believed (considered abstractly, apart from all the biblical data), since the second more difficult thing already is accepted, by Protestant and Catholic alike.

I really think it is an incipient anti-institutionalism and a-historicism that makes Protestants war against the infallibility of the Church: plainly taught, I contend, in the Bible.